Translated from the Russian by Robin
In an interview with the radio station Russia Today, Rostislav Ishchenko, President of the Center for Systematic Analysis and Forecasting, talks about who is trying to draw Russia into a military conflict, and why, Crimea’s role in the situation, and the splitting of the Ukraine into separate territories.
In one of your articles, you wrote that the Ukraine was in all likelihood considering some sort of attack on Crimea. What exactly did you mean?
First, I don’t think the Ukraine or even the powers that be in Kiev want to attack Crimea. I believe that even the orders to shoot that [Oleksander] Turchynov allegedly gave the military in February 2014 were a PR move. It’s doubtful whether he gave such orders at that time. And, if he had given them, of the 20,000 soldiers who were in Crimea at that time, someone would have fulfilled them.
Second, as for an attack on Crimea by the Ukraine, I have already said and I’ll repeat it: from my point of view, it’s one of the last ways to start a war with Russia. It’s perfectly clear that, from February to March of last year, they began trying to draw Russia into direct combat in the Ukraine. And it’s clear that the idea came not from Kiev but from Washington.
After the failed attempts to get Russia to send troops to southeast Ukraine in March, April, May, and August, as well as in January of this year, the only more or less justified chance, from the point of view of international law, to instigate a Ukrainian-Russian war is to attempt to play the return-of-Crimea card. And it has been important from the very beginning to ensure that the Ukraine is not seen as the aggressor.
Is the goal of drawing Russia into military operations still on the agenda?
Yes. Now it’s much more difficult to achieve because all the major forces of the Ukrainian army are tied up in the southeast, so Kiev can’t mount an offensive on the isthmus [connecting Crimea to the mainland]. Last summer, they could have. I think the danger of that was quite high. But then another decision was made: the United States tried once again to draw Russia into war, and active military operations began in the southeast. Donetsk and Luhansk were practically under siege. At that point, the goal really was almost achieved, because in that situation Russia could not let the DPR and the LPR be crushed, and if it had not managed to reverse the course of events, troops would have gone to Crimea.
Who benefits from dragging Russia into the war? After all, it’s dangerous for Europe to have fighting right on its doorstep.
The idea of a coup d’état and the most negative unfolding of events, namely a military scenario, clearly does not come from the European politicians. They had no objection to gaining economic control over the Ukraine, which would allow them to pass freely through the Ukrainian market to the Russian and CIS markets. But they had no interest whatsoever in getting into a political and military confrontation with Russia.
On the other hand, the United States, which was clearly not thrilled with the developing economic cooperation between Russia and Europe – cooperation with such great potential that the United States would eventually be crowded out in Europe, first economically and then politically – had a vested interest in having Europe and Russia clash somewhere.
It could not have happened in Poland or Lithuania or even in Belarus – it was possible only in the Ukraine, thanks to the thoroughly inept policies of [Victor] Yanukovych and his government, which tried to continue [Leonid] Kuchma’s outdated “multivector” policy of being friends with, and milking, everyone. This policy created conditions for the emergence of conflicting interests in the EU, Russia and the Ukraine, and they were above all economic.
In other words, European politicians also were not inactive?
European politicians have played a most active role in the situation in the Ukraine: they visited, supported, guaranteed, signed agreements, and organized negotiations. Merkel believed that [Wladimir] Klitschko was guaranteed to be the next president of the Ukraine. But on February 21 the Europeans were cut out. And the very next day the United States took control of the situation in the Ukraine. And all further actions took place on orders from Washington, because any government in Kiev, even the most incompetent, would have clearly understood that what was needed most of all was to stabilize the situation, even if concessions had to be made in Crimea and the southeast. It was the wrong time for the Ukraine to take aggressive action; it was not strong enough, and the government in Kiev was not consolidated, but the Ukraine was literally [sic] being pushed toward a confrontation with Russia.
They also tried to provoke Russia. I’ll give you a simple example: at the beginning of March, when Crimea was not even legally part of Russia, Putin said that Russia would not tolerate terror against the population in the southeast. Immediately units of the Ukrainian army started moving toward the southeast. Two months into the process they still weren’t fully assembled, but nevertheless Kiev said it was starting to conduct antiterrorist operations there. Then came the events in Odessa: brazenly, with television cameras rolling, they killed dozens of people. Then there was firing into Russian territory. Somehow, today we don’t see any shells from Ukrainian territory coming into Russia, but in June and July they were arriving in droves. It’s unlikely the Ukrainian gunners didn’t learn how to shoot until August.
If the shells were reaching Russian territory, someone needed it to happen. If aircraft were violating the airspace of the Russian Federation, someone needed that too. They were making every effort to pull the Russian Federation into the war.
How will the U.S. benefit if Russia is drawn into a military conflict?
How quickly Russian troops might occupy Kiev or even Lvov was of no concern whatsoever to the United States. The main thing was to show that Russia had invaded a sovereign state. Europe would not have been able to remain silent, and in that case the rhetoric and sanctions would have been broader and deeper than now. This would have led to a direct confrontation, severing Europe from Russia for a long time. In addition, it would have caused concern among Russia’s allies in the customs union and the recently created Eurasian Economic Union.
Quite naturally other capitals would start to worry: if you can go into the Ukraine, then why not go into Kazakhstan and Belarus too? Even now, when efforts to propel Europe into a direct confrontation with Russia have failed and are unlikely to succeed, the U.S. is interested in seeing Russian troops in the Ukraine, because they cannot hold onto the Ukraine, and it’s clear that the Kiev government will fall. The longer the government lasts in Kiev, the more money and resources, including political, diplomatic, and economic resources, the U.S. will inevitably lose in propping it up. No one wants to waste resources on what is basically a lost cause. If Russia takes control of the Ukraine, then it will become Russia’s responsibility, politically, economically and financially.
Until then it’s the responsibility of the United States. And each successive move by the Kiev regime, each escalation of the terror is slowly but surely eroding the position of the United States, because sooner or later it will be necessary to admit that they have organized and supported a Nazi regime. And people are talking about this openly in Europe. I think that, by December, the United States realized there would be no direct invasion; anything is possible except a direct invasion.
What, in your opinion, awaits the Ukraine? What is the possible outcome of the situation?
Most likely, there will be another coup in Kiev. It boils down to one simple thing: it’s necessary to remove the last, quasi-legitimate President, [Petro] Poroshenko, who is keeping the various groups from going at one another’s throats. It’s clear that Poroshenko will be overthrown by openly Nazi battalions, and the next government will be even more rigid, resulting in a regime of outright terror.
Then the powers that be won’t be able to maintain complete control over their territory. They will begin to gradually splinter into “principalities,” each with its own troops, and these principalities will engage in conflict with one another. This will destroy what remains of the industrial capacity and will increase the number of refugees flooding into the Russian Federation and the EU, as well as the loss of life, because of the density of the population and the time it will take to disarm these gangs. The question then arises: how do you ensure this “Somalia” doesn’t spread over the borders? It will be primarily Russia’s problem because Europe doesn’t have the military resources.
Is there a way out of this situation? How can order be restored and the cities made secure, if at all possible?
The war will end sooner or later – most likely sooner rather than later, simply because the Ukraine’s economic capacity will not allow it to wage war for long, and its neighbors are not interested in having an endless “Somalia” going on in the Ukraine. Russia’s actions over the past year show that it’s not fighting for Crimea or the Donbass; it’s fighting for all of the Ukraine. I very much doubt whether the Ukraine, even with substantial outside support, will last as an independent state for the next five or 10 years.
It will have to be rebuilt, starting from zero. It would be nonsensical for Russia to create a continually hostile state on its borders. The problem is not whether it is necessary to integrate the Ukraine into the territory of the Russian Federation, but how to do so from the standpoint of international law. It all comes back to the confrontation between the Russian Federation and the United States, because if Russia loses, it will be Russia that is divided. But since I’m sure that the U.S. will lose, or even that it has already lost, it’s just a matter of time and formalities; the framework of international law will change. And within this new framework will be decided the matter of what should be done with the Ukrainian territories and what their legal status will be. The one that rebuilds them will decide their fate and questions of governance, and that will be Russia.